Two days before New Year’s 2010, Homeland Security shocked New Yorkers when the agency detained community leader Jean Montrevil. Now held in Pennsylvania’s York County Prison, Montrevil is beginning a hunger strike. “I am fasting side by side with nearly 60 other detainees to take a stand against this horrific deportation and detention system that is tearing families apart,” Montrevil says. Montrevil entered the U.S. from Haiti in 1986 as a legal permanent resident.
Meanwhile prominent clergy and elected leaders are calling on the feds to return Montrevil to his wife Janay, an African-American school teacher, and his four U.S.-born children.
“Jean represents all that is right about our nation and wrong with the deportation system,” says Rev. Bob Coleman of the historic Riverside Church. “He made a mistake. He paid his time. He represents a restored life. Who benefits by stripping him of his legal status?” Rev. Coleman is a leader of New York’s New Sanctuary Movement, a faith-based coalition for immigration reform that Montrevil himself co-founded in 2007.
Montrevil entered the U.S. from Haiti in 1986 as a legal permanent resident. Homeland Security is trying to de-legalize him for a 1989 drug conviction, for which Montrevil served 11 years. He has kept an exemplary record ever since. He became a national spokesperson for the Child Citizen Protection Act, a House proposal that would bring due process into the deportation system by allowing immigration judges to consider the best interests of American children before deporting a parent. The proposal is part of Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s recently-introduced bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (H.R. 4321).
“Our son keeps calling Jean’s cell phone, hoping daddy will pick up. He asks me, `Why are they pretending daddy is bad, so he will go back to Haiti?’” says Mrs. Montrevil. “Jean made mistakes before we started building a family together. Homeland Security wants to turn me into a single mother.” The couple’s six-year-old son Jasiah also suffers from severe asthma, which has been aggravated since his father was detained.
Since Montrevil’s detention on December 30, hundreds of supporters from across the country have called David Venturella, Acting Director of ICE’s Office of Detention and Removal Operations, urging Montrevil’s release and suspension of his deportation. “Contrary to the claims of ICE leadership that the agency will be transparent and accountable in its implementation of immigration laws, it has not responded to Montrevil or his attorney Joshua Bardavid,” says Andrea Black, director of the Detention Watch Network. “There is no excuse for their silence.”
Elected leaders supporting Montrevil include: U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velasquez (both cosponsors of the H.R. 4321), NY State Senator Thomas K. Duane, NY State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and NYC Councilwoman Rosie Mendez.
“Jean has been nothing less than an inspiration. His work on behalf of immigrants being torn from their families across the country has been prophetic. On Tuesday at 12:30 pm, I will join other people of faith at 201 Varick Street, the detention center in New York, and demand that ICE respond to us. We will no longer accept silence as an answer,” adds the Rev. Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church, where Montrevil worships.